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The bare numbers show how far Facebook has come and the size of the opportunity that still remains.

There are approximately 1.9bn smartphone users globally and 1.31bn of them are monthly active users of Facebook (June 30th, 2015). 

Facebook Lite was launched this year so users with poor or unstable connections can use a simplified version of the platform.

Where connections are good, content discovery is no doubt now the focus. 

Numerous social networks have been making changes designed to create opportunity for publishers and advertisers and increase media consumption in-app.

So, what is Facebook doing and what stands in its way?

New features

Facebook has been incredibly active this year, rolling out many features to better surface or enrich content.

  • Instant Articles allows users to quickly load publisher content in-app
  • New Newsfeed controls allow users to discover new Pages to follow. 
  • Facebook notes is now a richer reading experience, albeit still created on desktop.
  • The Facebook Mentions app for public figures allows them to livestream video to fans.
  • 360 degree videos were launched, with selected videos gaining more views on Facebook than on YouTube, where the same feature exists.
  • Suggested videos allows users to swipe through multiple related videos in a row. 
  • A dedicated videos section/tab is being tested. Users will be able to save video to this video tab, to watch later.
  • Multitasking with video is being tested, where video plays at the top of the mobile window and users can continue to explore Facebook below.
  • Place Tips offers event coverage, information and check-in features such as photos and posts from your friends in a given location.
  • Users with location tracking enabled will receive a notification when they approach a recognised place (such as The Met or Disney World). This could be the end of attractions creating mobile apps specifically to present information to users.

facebook place tips

A new platform 

Facebook has also been developing Messenger features, too. Not only can users now sign up without a Facebook account, the app allows video calling and money transfers.

We're beginning to see Messenger as a platform as it is allows other apps to integrate. This means Messenger users can share content from other apps and those receiving the content can also be prompted to download the app in question.

This integration is continuing with websites, where, from a checkout page on the web, users could opt to receive order updates to their Messenger app, for example.

Facebook's ability to identify customers on desktop and mobile means this makes sense.

It is, in effect, competition for the notifications sections of your smartphone.

Competition with the OS?

There's no more cogent commentator on the dynamics of the smartphone as internet platform than Benedict Evans (read his blogs here).

Below he writes about an OS trend for unbundling content on your smartphone.

Next, Apple and Google are exploring new ways to unbundle the content within apps into new usage models. Hence Apple's 3D Touch unbundles app content into the home screen (shades of Windows Phone) with these dynamic menus.

Can there be apps where this is the main UI? Can you use them for notifications? (And of course this isn't on Android, so the fantasy of a cross-platform app gets even further away.)

Equally, Google's Now on Tap unbundles apps (and anything else) into Google's own search and suggestions. There's a nice dilemma here - when you implement the APIs to support app indexing and deep linking, you also let Google route people away from your app at a moment's notice...

...But if Facebook is successful in using Messenger to close the loop between its online identity platform (which both Apple and Google lack) and notification and engagement on the phone, then it'll have managed to create its own layer at last.

So, the point is not about competing with the OS, but about Facebook increasing engagement, both through content discovery and notifications.

With so many users, the hard part is arguably done and Facebook is slowly changing into a much broader 'lifestyle' app (I don't mean exercise or diet) than merely a way to stay in touch with friends.

Ben Davis

Published 15 October, 2015 by Ben Davis @ Econsultancy

Ben Davis is Deputy Editor at Econsultancy. He lives in Manchester, England. You can contact him at ben.davis@econsultancy.com, follow at @herrhuld or connect via LinkedIn.

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